Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

1.2 Who Are Our Prisoners? Characteristics of the Prison Population

Firstly, a key question to ask is: Who exactly are our prisoners?

It has been over 20 years since there was a comprehensive study [95] published on the demographic profile of the prison population in Ireland. That study[96] showed that 56% of prisoners in Mountjoy Prison came from six districts characterised by high levels of economic deprivation in Dublin. Since then, one study,[97] published a decade ago, focused on the geography of prisoner reintegration. This study showed that the most deprived areas in the country had 145.9 prisoners per 10,000 population, compared to a figure of 6.3 for the least deprived areas in the country.[98]

Of the current prison population, 4.5% are female.[99] Research[100] in England shows that 57% of female prisoners have been victims of domestic abuse and 53% had experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child.

Research [101] also shows that children aged 16 and 17 living in residential care are 15 times more likely to be criminalised than their peers. Connections between childhood adversities, trauma and imprisonment have been increasingly acknowledged. [102] In describing interviews with prisoners, the Mountjoy Visiting Committee stated: “Many reported a history of deprivation, trauma, intergenerational substance abuse, out of home care and loss of family contact.” [103]

Recent estimates suggest that 15% of males and 22% of females in Irish prisons are Travellers.[104] Figures from the World Prison Brief [105] also show that 15.6% of prisoners are on remand and 13% of the prison population in Ireland are foreign-nationals.

The absence of any recent comprehensive study on the demographic profile of the prison population in Ireland again highlights a gap in data available to support policy making and practice in the criminal justice system.

Evidence shows that social exclusion is closely interlinked with both crime and punishment. [106] Between 2015 and 2017, the Irish Prison Service undertook a survey [107] with prisoners in three prisons. Based on aggregate data from these surveys, results show that 25.6% of participants had attended no secondary school and 80% of participants left school before completion of the Leaving Certificate. [108]

Another recent Irish study showed that 17.4% of the prison population were homeless on committal to prison, a figure higher than some international estimates. [109] The same research also found that rates for psychoses and alcohol and substance misuse were significantly higher than in the general population.[110]

The changemakers identified in this report work beyond the criminal justice system, and include a number of government departments including housing, education, health, children and employment. The policies and practices of all departments and agencies in addressing issues of social exclusion and disadvantage must be reflected upon and their direct implications for rates of imprisonment considered.


IPRT Irish Penal Reform Trust


Copyright 2019 Irish Penal Reform Trust. CHY number: 11091

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